THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: Spider-Men (2012)

Peter Parker joins forces with fellow Spider-Man Miles Morales in this memorable limited series from Brian Michael Bendis. 

Who made it?: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Sara Pichelli (Artwork), Marvel Comics.

Who’s in it?: Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Mysterio, The Ultimates.

Original run: Spider-Men #1-5.

Released: June-September 2012.

When two versions of the same character are thrown together, I’ve noticed that one of them has usually been created purely for a “crossover.” It’s not often that said characters are stars of their own respective series. Of course, Spider-Man has always appealed to a large market partly because he’s spread over so many different products marketed to both children and adults. It’s also fairly rare for a superhero to be properly killed off, especially one so popular. Major characters like Batman, Superman and Captain America have all “died” and the media attention that they receive is understandable, yet those characters all returned within a year or two. Death in comics is very much a non-event. Yet what about the times when equal media attention is given to a character that isn’t even in the main Universe continuity? No, we’re not talking about everyone’s favourite Daily Bugle photographer.

Miles Morales became the Ultimate Universe‘s Spidey after the death of Ultimate Peter Parker at the hands of the Ultimate Green Goblin. Not only does he wear a unique costume but his powers are different, as he lacks web-shooters and instead has a “venomous sting” as well as limited camouflage abilities. He’s also black, something that the media focused on quite intensely as if having a different skin colour is something completely amazing. However, in the world we live in, having a hero as major as Spider-Man be black is still a novelty, especially an African-American hero without the word “black” in his name. Most of the coverage paid less attention to the fact that Spidey was now only thirteen-years-old, and while I accept that there are other young heroes such as Power Pack, any adventures involving the latter are generally aimed at children. Ultimate Spider-Man is aimed at everyone. Thirteen is a really young age for a major superhero. Why didn’t the papers focus more on the child endangerment issues?

Although Spider-Men is a crossover, the very first between the mainstream Universe (616) and the Ultimate Universe (1610), the most attention is paid to Parker. Whilst I am sure some will see this as a bias against the newer character, it’s actually extremely sensible. Who will readers emphasise with the most? Someone they’ve read a few issues of but know mostly due to the press coverage, or someone who was a part of their childhood Saturday morning cartoons eating sugar-filled cereal out of their Spider-Man bowl? He also has the greatest amount of history from which the creative team could pull ideas, put there’s always a capacity for continuity issues if this character isn’t watched too closely. If you ever read The Amazing Spider-Man, you’ll know that Parker causes all sorts of problems by accident.

As you may expect, it is the death of the original Ultimate Spidey that provides the main focus for Parker’s quintessential monologues, musings and ramblings. Having been dragged into this Universe whilst battling the well-known if under-used villain Mysterio, Peter is disorientated yet manages to break up a mugging. He is greatly confused by the citizen’s reaction, who seems to know a lot about the costumed vigilante. A chance encounter with Morales leads Peter to visit the Triskelion (home of this Universes’ S.H.I.E.L.D.) and areas of New York that are familiar to him, even if they’re no longer the same. This all leads Peter to learn more about himself, although, in this instance, it obviously has more than one connotation…

On first reading Spider-Men, I was less than impressed with the writing. Yes, that’s right, I’m pooh-poohing a comic written by Brian Michael Bendis. It seemed really disappointing at the time. People bitched and moaned that Bendis was no longer reaching the same high-quality benchmark that he had set with his past work, but as this was on the Internet I passed it off as the raving of loons. Yet I ending up thinking that it was too stunted, with not enough detail given to some scenes including those with characters such as The Ultimates, and others which could have been slashed in half without taking anything away from the plot. The fact that Miles is relegated to a sidekick role also made me feel a little cheated, as it’s called Spider-MEN after all. But I did revisit it, in the hope that somehow the story had improved, and the second read-through was the key. Maybe it was because I knew what to expect; a gentle, tender comic with action scenes rather than an action comic with lighter moments grafted on. Looking back on it, my prior issues were misguided.

The scenes filled with heart were exactly what was needed, offering an almost realistic portrayal of how Peter and those around him would react, and while it would be cool to see all of The Ultimates in action, it wouldn’t really require all of them to take down someone like Mysterio. And with the latter, I still don’t know whether or not I like Bendis’ use of him, as he’s been given a small overhaul. Mysterio has been a major part of the rebooted Ultimate Spider-Man comics since their inception due to Ultimatum, and we finally discover his origin, and herein lies my gripe. If you’re not up on the history, the Ultimate Mysterio will probably make no sense to you whatsoever, so it was probably smart to bring in the regular Mysterio as well. It’s done in a fairly original manner, which I do like, but the villain’s use here will leave a fair percentage of readers confused.

My feeling that its over too quickly remains, and it’s not because I loved it unabashedly, but because focusing upon one element makes everything else in the plot seem lacking in depth. Fear not though, as I still haven’t read anything of Bendis’ that I have truly disliked, but I am now aware that he can pen something that doesn’t grab my attention (or even deserve it with so much choice out there). There’s always a danger that fanboys will read anything by a certain author in the mistaken belief that the writer can do no wrong, Jeph Loeb being a case in point. Bendis has repeatedly shown that he can write powerful and weak characters equally well by mixing action and tenderness. Let’s hope he can best this efforts on Spider-Men and never becomes a new Loeb.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • According to Bendis and Axel Alonso, the idea came from trying to find what could be done for the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man. Alonso described the story with: “All I can say is that the Peter Parker of the Ultimate Universe casts a huge shadow over Miles’ spiritual and emotional development. What will he do when he’s confronted with the Peter Parker from another universe? Well, that’s the story. And there are a couple of things going on. First, Miles is meeting someone who’s the closest flesh-and-blood thing to his actual biggest hero. Second, he’s being shown a window into an entire new universe. That’s mind-bending stuff for a young kid to come to terms with.” Alonso went on to reveal that “there’s a super-cool villain involved in all of this and it’s mind-bending, twisted stuff that puts these two in each others’ orbit. We don’t break down the wall between the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe lightly.”

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